When Can I Charge More Money for My Work?
The first question a smutlancer (or any freelancer, let’s be honest) asks is, “How much should I charge for my work?” It’s an imperfect science, but we’ve discussed it before here and here. Once you start making money, the next question you should ask yourself is, “When can I charge more?”
Like everything else, there’s no simple answer, and frankly, the short answer is, “It depends.”
I’ll be the first to admit I never raise my rates as often as I should. One client got my newbie rate for three years. Three. Years.
If you’re not raising your rates, the only way to make more money is to take on more work. That becomes unsustainable almost immediately.
I want you to be better at this than I am, so let’s talk about how to raise your rates and when you should.
Renegotiate Your Rates Once a Year
Once you get a steady or repeat client/gig, make a note on or near your one-year anniversary to renegotiate your rates. You may only be able to negotiate a small increase, but it’s better than nothing.
In a year’s time, you’ve shown your value to this client. How do you know? They keep coming back for more and haven’t fired you, so you’re doing something right. Now it’s time to remind them of what you bring to the table.
Clients who love you and your work likely won’t blink — unless you suggest an astronomical new rate. (More on that in a minute.) But if you do this every year, you’ll gradually increase your pay without increasing your workload.
Raise Your Rates With Each New Client
If you’re winning new clients every few months or so, up your price a bit with each new agreement. Maybe you charged the last client who hired you $50 for each blog post you write. Charge this client $55 or $60 per post. The next client after that? $70 or $75 per post.
(By the way, if you’re a writer there are multiple ways to bill for your work but my preferred method is per piece or a flat rate per month. I really don’t recommend per hour. You’ll work yourself into the ground that way.)
The longer you do your smutlancing work, the better you get. So if it’s been a few months between new clients, that next company is paying for your added skill and experience. They get the new, improved version of you, and the newer model always costs more.
Charge More and Over Deliver
The key to keeping clients who are willing to pay you more than the next freelancer is to over deliver all the time.
- Be willing to communicate and offer advice.
- Send in your work on time or early.
- Go the extra mile.
- Be friendly.
Don’t nickel and dime a long-term client. Charge them for the work you do, of course, but be realistic. When a client pays my top rate, I can make time for a 30 minute phone call once a month, and I’m happy to advise and counsel them on a path forward for their content goals.
Remember, you’re trying to build a relationship here. When you show your value in multiple ways, you make it easy to justify a higher price when it’s time to renegotiate.
How to Charge Your Top Rate
My “top rate” is likely different than your “top rate.” (Neither is better or worse, just different.) This is the amount that you’d love to get paid but you’re not sure anyone will actually pay you that amount. I’ve got two clients who consistently pay my current top rates, and they agreed to it so fast that I must have charged too little. Oops.
To me, this is the dollar amount that once I’ve emailed the estimate, I immediately think, “They’re never going to pay that.”
Should you always charge your top rate?
Yes, but if you’ve been freelancing for five minutes, your top rate today shouldn’t be what it’s going to be in a year or in five years. Until you have a portfolio or references or a presence online, you may not be able to convince anyone to pay top price for your services…yet.
To justify whatever that maximum amount might be, you need a few things:
- The skills to justify your rate
- The willingness to work hard for your rate
- Proof that you’re worth every penny. For my writer friends, this is where a good blog comes in handy.
You might fool a new client into paying you some ungodly amount once or twice, but if you can’t deliver, you’ll be fired fast. Long-term income that you can count on is better than wondering from month to month if you’ll get enough work. Unless you like living on the edge of your seat and bank account every month. So deliver the work you promised and make sure you’re worth every penny the client is paying you.
Be Prepared for “No”
Some clients you want to work with or that you’ve worked with in the past aren’t going to pay your rates. They’re going to tell you no or you’re going to have to let them go. That’s okay. I promise, it really is.
You’re going to be tempted to drop your rates in order to “compete.” A race to the bottom isn’t a competition. It’s simply the fastest way to work with clients who don’t value what you do.
When you hold out for better paying clients and negotiate better rates, you set yourself apart as a professional. It won’t feel like that when you’re being rejected. But when you get the client who says, “Yes” or one of your existing clients agrees to the increase in your rates, you’ll feel it then.
So when can you charge more for your work? Tomorrow and the day after that. Just make sure you can back up your rate with the quality of your work. When you charge professional rates, you’re treated and viewed as the professional you are — by the right clients.